necn Investigates: Thousands of Personal Pictures End up in Stranger's Hands

Refurbished memory cards contained images from previous owners

A Maine man thought he was getting a great deal on memory cards from Groupon. But when he received them in the mail, he found pictures of passports, ids and personal videos of the previous owner in Israel.

"Initially, I was frustrated," says Michael Leonard.

Leonard tells necn Investigates that his troubles began back in May after he ordered three refurbished 64 gig Sandisk memory cards for his go-pro camera. They only cost $24. When he tried to use one of them, it wouldn't work. When he plugged the memory card into his computer, he discovered the card was filled with pictures and videos from the previous owner who lived 5,400 miles away.

"ID cards with personal information. I found some pictures of passports," Leonard told necn Investigates Jason Frazer. "Pictures of people, pictures of women."

When Leonard showed us the card, necn Investigates found pictures of the previous owner's personal moments from a hospital celebration and photos of the Israeli military. The card even had videos of stage performances with fire, elephants dancing, and a street performer playing with several snakes.

Leonard says he tried contacting both Sandisk and Groupon about the problems but was told there wasn't anything they could do since the warranty expired.

"How is it Groupon and Sandisk can allow this to happen?" asked Leonard.

After necn Investigates reached out to Groupon, the company apologized to Leonard and gave him a full refund.

Groupon's spokesperson blamed the problem on a third party vendor and told necn in a statement "We've reached out to make them aware of the issue and to stress that this does not meet our standards for high-quality products. We also have no further deals planned with them."

When necn Investigates reached out to the vendor, the owner told us the cards came from an authorized reseller and questioned whether the cards in question came from them.

"78% of devices that are being resold have some residual information on them," said Sam Ransbotham, an Associate Professor of Information Systems at Boston College.

Ransbotham believes cases like Leonard's will only become more common.

"We don't choose resellers based on whether or not they erase. We choose them based on cost and erasing is a step that adds cost and money to the reseller," according to Ransbotham.

So how can you protect yourself? Pressing the reset or delete button isn't enough. Experts recommend downloading a deletion program.

"They're built into Apple. Their disk utility has a way of secure erasing. Windows has one. Cipher as well," according to Ransbotham.

Leonard hopes his story will inspire Groupon to make some changes.

"I'm not afraid to use refurbished cards. I'm not interested in going back to Groupon for memory cards."

necn Investigates did track down the owner of the memory card in Israel.

She didn't want to go on camera but she told necn Investigates it's unclear how her photos ended up 5,400 miles away in Maine.

Experts say if you find someone's personal data on a memory card, you should return it to the manufacturer.

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